The Most Important Phrase in Performance Conversations

For many, July represents the time of year for “mid-year” discussions regarding performance.  Some call them “mid-year appraisals” or “mid-year assessments” or “mid-year performance reviews”.  This can be a stressful, frustrating experience for Managers and Employees both.

I would recommend one quote that helps in making these conversations much more effective:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Maya Angelou

So, how do you ensure that an Employee will “feel” good about the conversation?  Here’s the first step:  Decide what the purpose of the conversation is.

  • Are you doing it because you are mandated by ‘Corporate’ or HR?  Are you fulfilling some other type of requirement?  If so, that will come shining through to the Employee (and spoiler alert:  it probably won’t go well!).
  • Are you truly trying to help the Employee achieve more, find more success?  Think of that.  Tell them – let that mindset drive your conversation.
  • If you are trying to improve poor performance, that is a great reason to have such a discussion.  But beware, this purpose needs another level deeper:  why are you trying to improve performance? performance discussion Is it to fire them?  Because your boss told you to?  Because you need a scapegoat for something that was missed?  As in other cases, the true reason will come shining through, and will definitely be felt.***
  • If you can’t even explain the purpose yourself, the Employee will definitely feel it.  This is the most common cause of frustration and poor conversations.

After you understand your purpose for the conversation, the next step is simple to say, but harder to do:  practice.

I don’t mean stand in front of a mirror and rehearse what you are going to say.  I mean create opportunities for Performance Conversations more frequently.  Share with your team the reason you are doing it.  That reason is simple: because you want to be better at giving good, helpful information about their performance (something they will want from you as well).  I am confident they will be helpful and understanding as you do this, as long as you both keep the purpose in mind.

With a solid purpose in mind, and a little bit of practice, your Employees will feel good about Performance Conversations.  And you will too.

***I wrote more about coaching underperformers here.


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